When Britain voted to leave the European Union, few voters outside Northern Ireland thought about what it would mean for the British province. Three years on, Northern Ireland is inching closer to holding a referendum of its own — on reunification with Ireland. A united Ireland, and Northern Ireland’s withdrawal from the United Kingdom, remain distant prospects, and a unity referendum may not happen soon. But, as an unexpected consequence of Brexit, the political landscape is shifting. The two largest parties in the Irish republic, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, both of whom ultimately favour a united Ireland, have expanded their political networks north of the border to position themselves for a possible “unity vote”. Fine Gael, Ireland’s governing party, has also taken the unusual step of selecting one-time Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Mark Durkan as a candidate to run in the Dublin constituency in this week’s European elections. “The unity debate has gained legs in the context of Brexit,” Durkan, a former leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), one of Northern Ireland’s two main pro-unity parties, told Reuters while campaigning in the Irish capital. In the 2016 Brexit referendum, nearly 56% of voters in Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU but the province will leave when the rest as Britain departs — on a date that has not yet been set. Ireland, which won independence from Britain a century ago and joined the EU in 1973, will remain in the bloc as its
Brexit deal marks a clear victory for Ireland -- one no-one in Britain saw coming and one which has raised the Irish government's standing at home and abroad. "The Irish government's key preferences were all reflected in the divorce settlement," said Etain Tannam, a senior lecturer at Trinity College Dublin.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney: “The Irish position remains consistent and very clear that a ‘time-limited backstop’ or a backstop that could be ended by UK unilaterally would never be agreed to by Ireland or the European Union. These ideas are not backstops at all + don’t deliver on previous UK commitments.”